CHICKASHA — After spending a year at Oklahoma State University, Conner Prochaska decided a campus that size wasn't for him.
He wanted a smaller college and class sizes that allowed for more one-on-one interaction with professors, he said. So after his freshman year at OSU, he decided to transfer to the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.
But when he told his friends at OSU about his decision, most of them reacted the same way — with confusion.
“Some people had no idea that it was in Chickasha,” he said.
Since 2005, USAO officials have been working to reach more students across Oklahoma. But officials say that level of confusion about what USAO does is a major challenge for the university's recruiting efforts.
USAO's role as the state's public liberal arts school means the university has a mission to recruit students from across Oklahoma. But enrollment records show 60 percent of USAO's students come from the area near Chickasha.
Prochaska originally hails from Chickasha, so he already knew about USAO. He'd been on campus, and his parents know USAO President John Feaver, he said. When he began looking for a smaller university, it was the first school that leapt to mind, he said.
“I didn't really have to be sold on it,” he said.
But friends from elsewhere in the state often think USAO is a regional university, if they've heard of it at all, he said. Most of the people he knows on campus seem to be from near Chickasha, he said.
During the spring 2013 semester, 237 of USAO's students — about 26 percent of the university's enrollment — came from Grady County, where Chickasha is located. Another 35 percent came from the seven counties that share a border with Grady County.
Oklahoma and Tulsa counties, the state's two most populous counties, sent a combined 83 students to USAO last semester — just over a third of the number of students from Grady County.
Feaver said the university is working with the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to correct that imbalance. The issue is partly rooted in the way the university was managed decades ago, he said.